Atherton Tablelands Drive

Inland from Cairns in Queensland's far north, the Atherton Tablelands offer a blend of the best attractions of the wet tropics and the dry outback charm; a combination of nature and lifestyle at its finest. Among the World Heritage listed rainforests, national parks, mountains, rivers, lakes and waterfalls of the Tableland are some of Australia's richest agricultural lands, cattle country and charming small townships.

Less than an hour's drive from Cairns, the Tablelands' winding roads lead to spectacular lookouts and waterfalls, and highlights include Australia's widest waterfall - Millstream Falls - and many others flowing all year round, the deep blue waters of extinct volcano crater lakes, Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham, the ancient Bromfield Swamp near Malanda and the Mt. Hypipamee Crater National Park near Herberton. A little further West, the lush farming lands change to Wooded Savannah with dry creek beds, wandering cattle and the beautiful ochre colours of the Outback.

For visitors, the Tablelands and Outback present opportunities for bush walking, bird watching, limestone cave tours, visits to coffee and tea plantations and tropical fruit wineries, wildlife cruises, wildlife spotting, hot air ballooning and water sports as diverse as fishing, water skiing and white water rafting.

Though this drive through the Tablelands can be travelled in a day, this is not nearly enough time to enjoy all there is on offer here, whatever one's interests might be. An absolute minimum of two days is recommended, with at least a day spent in the northern section and another day in the south.

Location: north Queensland, inland from Cairns.

Length: 177 km plus additional travel to points of interest within the region

Suggested return journey: this drive is a loop that starts and finishes at Cairns.

Features/attractions

Volcano crater lakes; Kuranda village and tropical rainforest; coffee and tea plantations; historic mining towns of Herberton and Ravensoe; waterfalls of the Tablelands

Minimum duration (one way): 3 hours 30 minutes

What You Will See

Cairns to Kuranda: travelling in a counter-clockwise direction from Cairns, the first section of the drive is a short but steep climb up into the mountains. Have your camera ready as there are some fine panoramic vistas across the coastal plain and Trinity Bay to see on the way up. At the top you'll reach Barron Falls and Kuranda Scenic Railway, and then Kuranda, the village in the rainforest (Heritage Markets; Australian Venom Zoo; Birdworld Kuranda; Australian Butterfly Sanctuary; BatReach; Cairns Wildlife Safari Reserve; Koala Gardens; Rainforestation; Skyrail; Kuranda Riverboat).

Mareeba to Atherton

The road to Mareeba passes a number of coffee plantations; Jacques Coffee Plantation has an ultra-light for joy flights. Mareeba is the main town in the northern Tableland. It is an informative Heritage Museum and Tourist Information Centre. At Mareeba, take the road south to Atherton. There are plenty of things to see and do on this leg of the journey - two more coffee plantations (Tichum Creek Coffe Plantation and The Coffee Works); Golden Drop tropical fruit winery at Mareeba; Go Kart Racetrack; Mareeba Tropical Savannah & Wetland Reserve; Flying Warbirds joy flights; Granite Gorge Nature Park where you can hand feed rock wallabies; Mt. Uncle Distillery. Beck's Aviation and Military Museum is the biggest privately owned collection of war machines, planes and equipment in Queensland. 

Atherton to Ravenshoe

The main highway leads south to the former mining towns of Herberton (Carrington Falls; mining museum) and Ravenshoe (tourist steam railway), Millstream Falls; Little Millstream Falls; Hasties swamp National Park, Wongabel State Forest Walking Track (26 km), Mt. Hypipamee National Park (Mt. Hypipamee crater and crater lakes; Dinner Falls). Beyond Ravenshoe on the Kennedy Highway is Innot Hot Springs and the old copper mining town of Mount Garnet (42km from Ravenshoe).


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Crater Lakes: to the east of Atherton, off the Yungaburra Road, are Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine. These crater lakes have very deep, crystal-clear water. They are surrounded by dense tropical forest and have been developed for water sports. Giant red cedars have been preserved near Lake Eacham. The giant Cathedral Fig Tree and the Curtain Fig Tree are close by. Towards Ravenshoe you will come across the most dramatic of the tableland's crater lakes, Mt Hypipamee Lake, which fills the cone of the crater.

Herberton: off the main Tableland circuit but well worth a visit, Herberton was once the most important mining town on the Tableland. Carrington Falls are nearby. The town has many old buildings; the mining museum at the Great Northern Freehold Mine is very interesting. The Spy & Camera Museum is a totally one of a kind, unique museum that traces not only the history of photography but the importance of cameras in the world of espionage. The exhibits include the world's best spy cameras.

Ravenshoe: also off the main Tableland circuit, Ravensoe is an old timber town that came into being over 100 years ago. It is the setting point for a visit to Innot Hot Springs and the Undara Lava Tubes. Ravenshoe is also home to the Railco heritage steam railway. MacKenzie, Millsteam and Little Millstream Falls are near the town; Pepina and Souita Falls are on the way from Millaa Millaa. Hotel Tully Falls lays claim to being the highest pub in Queensland, being at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level.

Yungaburra to Millaa Millaa

To the east of Atherton is the quaint village of Yungaburra (platypus watching platform). On the way you will pass Shaylee Strawberry Farm - their strawberry jam is to die for! Yungaburra has a couple of excellent cafes (Yungaburra Whistle Stop Cafe is a personal favourite) and B&Bs. To the south of Yungaburra on your way to the tablelands' waterfall district you'll pass through the town of Malanda. People have claimed to have swum with platypus at the base of Malanda Falls in the crocodile-free North Johnstone river. pop in for a cuppa at the Nerada Tea plantation Visitors Centre. The road south from Malanda leads to some of the prettiest waterfalls you are ever likely to see - Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls; Elinjaa Falls, Mungalli Falls, Nandroya Falls, Silver Creek Falls, Walicher Falls, Tchupala Falls, Pepina Falls, Souita Falls.

Millaa Millaa to Innisfail

Beyond the waterfalls on the escarpment, Crawfords Lookout offers extensive views towards Mt. Bartle Frere (1,622 m, Queensland's highest mountain) and the coast before descending the Tableland to the town of Innisfail. On they way is the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway, a 350 metre high elevated walkway above the rainforest, at canopy level. Entry fees apply. Paronella Park and Mission Beach are a short drive south from Innisfail. The road north to Cairns passes Eubenangree Swamp National Park, the Josephine Falls turnoff and the town of Babinda, famous for Babinda Rocks (The Boulders, Goldfield Trail; Wonga Park Walk) which is a must-see natural attraction of the coastal region.

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